This paper is skinny, the editor is not

Published 2:00 pm Monday, July 1, 2019

By Jeremy Weldon

Editor’s Column

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It’s been almost two years since The Panolian began the long, and often painful, process of adjusting to the reality that hometown newspapers (the ones that are left) just aren’t what they once were.

For the most part readers have been understanding, if not a little bewildered, during the downsizing. Many are startled to learn just how many community newspapers have stopped printing in the last few years and are thankful Batesville still has a twice-weekly publication.

I’ve searched far and wide and can find no other city in the United States with a population of less than 7,500 that has anything more than a weekly paper. Many cities of 15,000 people only have a weekly paper, and I found some places with double our population and no newspaper.

In all, we are fortunate to have The Panolian twice a week although I’m well aware that many readers are still disappointed in the size of each issue. Frankly, tough times mean hard decisions. And reducing page count is the only solution to holding down expenses enough to keep The Panolian viable.

So, the paper is going to be skinny. Unfortunately, the editor is not. I don’t have a graph to illustrate the point, but readers can imagine two lines, starting about 18 months ago that would clearly show trends heading in different directions – as the paper got thinner, the editor got fatter.

I’m not sure how this happened. Maybe it’s the delicious finger foods and dips and such reporters get to eat when we attend retirement parties, ribbon cuttings, roundtable discussions, or a bevy of other events. I’ve noticed that savvy readers always include the word “refreshments” when they are trying to get me to attend something for coverage.

The South Panola school board met Wednesday to adopt this year’s budget, and because it was a lunchtime meeting sandwiches and salad from Bread & Butter Bistro was served. What a treat! Board president Jerry Cooley also entertained us with a story about how he would climb onto the roof of his dormitory at mortuary college in Houston to study his books.

Cooley said children passing the funeral home and college on their way to school were already leery of the place, understandably, and were further unnerved to see him sitting on the roof above the sidewalk reading and enjoying the breeze. Maybe you had to hear him tell it, but it made everyone there laugh.

What isn’t funny, to me, is the $44.4 million budget the school board passed. Absurd! I’m not sure how much money it would legitimately take to educate 4,200 school-aged children south of the Tallahatchie River, but I’m positive it’s much less than that monstrosity of a figure.

The worst thing is the incredible amount of spending the school board is required to fund because of state and federal mandates. Things the district must do to receive funds. It’s ridiculous to the average, thinking person. But, what to do? The hole we’ve dug in public education in this country is much too deep to climb out of now.

Much of the spending, I’ve noticed, is concentrated on early development – tons of money flow into pre-K, kindergarten, and elementary classrooms. I think lots of this money could be used elsewhere if children arrived at school with a good educational foundation built at home before they are school aged.

Think about this. How much better could the millions of dollars allocated for those early years be used if educators weren’t burdened with teaching so many children their ABC’s and how to read the very simplest of sentences in the first grade?

Mississippi should offer a tax credit – say $5,000 per child – for every family that delivers the school system a first-grader who can already read. It’s only fair that the good families who begin early with home education and teach their children to read should get some of their tax money back.

Not only have they saved the school system a bunch of money, they’ve helped the child’s first grade teacher tremendously. Good people work 40 years or more and contribute thousands to teach the children of lazy and unfit parents to read. Why not reward the ones who don’t put that burden on the taxpayers with some financial breaks?

Makes sense to me. But, I’m just a fat editor with a skinny paper, looking for the next ribbon cutting.